Florida stuns No. 7 Lady Vols for 5th win in 59 meetings

Feb 3, 2022, 3:01 AM | Updated: 5:49 pm

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — In 58 previous meetings spanning more than four decades, Florida’s often-feeble women’s basketball program never did anything like this to mighty Tennessee: A complete beatdown.

Kiki Smith scored 25 points, Nina Rickards added 16 and the Gators stunned No. 7 Tennessee 84-59 on Thursday night, giving Florida its fifth victory in 59 meetings between the teams.

“I don’t know that we were ever in it,” Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper said. “Florida came out and punched us right in the mouth and we never responded.”

It was Florida’s biggest win in the series — its second in the last 19 tries — and arguably its most surprising in program history. None of Florida’s previous four wins against Tennessee had been by more than nine points.

Zippy Broughton chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Gators (16-6, 6-3 Southeastern Conference), who have become one of college basketball’s biggest surprises following abuse allegations that ended with former coach Cam Newbauer’s resignation in mid-July.

Interim coach Kelly Rae Finley took over and now has the Gators on the verge of being nationally ranked for the first time since December 2016. Florida won for the sixth time in seven games, with the lone loss being a 62-50 setback to top-ranked South Carolina on Sunday in which the Gators trailed 19-3 after the first quarter.

They had no such issues against Tennessee (19-3, 8-2).

“We talked a lot about putting it on from start to finish, from the tip,” Smith said.

Florida opened up a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter and started to pull away in the third. Smith and Broughton dominated the guard matchup, breaking down Tennessee’s defense and creating open shots. They also helped forced 18 turnovers that Florida turned into 26 points.

“It was an onslaught coming right at us,” Harper said. “These turnovers resulted in wide-open layups. … We could play them tomorrow and I don’t know if we’d beat them.”

The Gators outscored the Lady Vols 23-12 in the third and shot a blistering 65.5% in the second half. Tennessee looked gassed at times, possibly because the Lady Vols were playing on the road on short rest. Plus, they needed overtime to beat Arkansas on Monday night.

“I thought we were going to be OK coming in,” Harper said. “I thought we might be a little tired. But I don’t know that it had anything to with the overtime.”

Alexus Dye led Tennessee with 10 points and six rebounds. Rae Burrell added nine points.

Florida outscored Tennessee 24-1 on fast breaks.

“Our advantages are in quickness and our speed,” Finley said. “We knew that’s where our advantage was. Their advantage was their size. If we allowed them to play their offense at the 3-point line and post up our guards, it was going to be a long night. We bought into that, we understood the assignment and I thought we executed it pretty much to perfection.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Lady Vols will need to win at UConn to avoid dropping out of the top 10 of the AP women’s college basketball poll.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Lady Vols need better guard play. Senior swing Burrell, standout junior Jordan Horston and graduate transfer Jordan Walker had 15 turnovers, including 11 in the first half. Sloppy play was the main reason Tennessee trailed 36-29 at the break and was down by as many as 12 in the second quarter.

Florida: The Gators have shown plenty of resiliency since Lavender Briggs, who averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds this season, decided to transfer following a shin injury. Florida has won six of seven since her departure.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: Plays at No. 10 UConn on Sunday, a nationally televised game on Fox.

Florida: Plays its fifth consecutive game against ranked teams when it travels to face No. 14 Georgia on Sunday.

___

More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Florida stuns No. 7 Lady Vols for 5th win in 59 meetings